Composition of the Books of Kings




Approximate date: before 562 B.C.E. (Right; some conservative-moderate; some Left); mid-to-late 500s B.C.E. (some conservative-moderate; some Left)

Time period: Solomon’s reign, the division of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and their judgment and dispersion

Author: Jeremiah (Right); Israel’s court historians and further editors (some conservative-moderate); an unidentified prophet or an unknown exile from the Southern Kingdom (some conservative-moderate; Left)

Location of author: Land of Israel (Right, some conservative-moderate); Jerusalem, Babylon, and/or Land of Israel (some conservative-moderate, Left)

Target audience and their location: people of Israel during the Divided monarchy (Right, conservative-moderate); Jewish religious leaders during the reign of King Josiah and/or Jewish exiles living in Babylon or returning from Babylon (Left)

reproduced from A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic

Theological Summary: In the division of the Hebrew Bible, the Books of Kings (Heb. melakim) are simply a single book. The division into two texts came via the production of the Septuagint in the Second Century B.C.E., with what we know today as 1&2 Kings originally being designated as 3&4 Kings. When the designation of the first two books as 1&2 Samuel came, the latter two books became listed as 1&2 Kings.[1] This division was followed by Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and was slowly adapted over time by Jewish Bibles as a matter of convenience.[2]

The Jewish theological tradition places 1&2 Kings among the Former Prophets, something to seriously be considered by any reader of the text because of the significant number of prophets listed in its account.[3] Christian tradition places 1&2 Kings among the Historical Books. While 1&2 Kings surely contain Biblical history, these books take on a distinctly prophetic character[4] in light of their content and warnings.

1&2 Kings take us from the beginning of the reign of King Solomon to the Southern Kingdom’s exile to Babylon, covering a period of about 400 years. Much attention is given to the rise of Solomon, and the chaos that appears to ensue following his death. It details the accounts of the Northern Kingdom’s rebellion against God, and its eventual exile by Assyria. Kings also records the up-and-down rebellion and loyalty to God by the Southern Kingdom, and its eventual exile to Babylon.

The division of Kings into 1 Kings and 2 Kings is at an arbitrary place in the text, appearing after the deaths of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 22:37) and Jehoshaphat of the Southern Kingdom (1 Kings 22:50). The purpose of the text was to provide Jews in Babylonian exile a recorded history of Israel from the reign of King David to the present time, including the period of the Divided Kingdom. We see in its record that the Northern Kingdom is portrayed as having exclusively wicked kings, and the Southern Kingdom likewise has mostly wicked kings, with a handful of exceptions.

1&2 Kings does present some chronological issues regarding the dating of various monarchs from the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and what can appear to be overlapping reigns.[5] Scholars have been trying to synchronize these reigns for many years based on extant data from the Ancient Near East, and have made various proposals.[6]

Jewish tradition accredits authorship of Kings to the Prophet Jeremiah (b.Bava Batra 15a),[7] arguing that Jeremiah was a contemporary of Josiah.[8] Many conservatives today espouse some kind of Jeremianic authorship or involvement in the text of 1&2 Kings.[9] Against this is the fact that Jeremiah was taken to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:6-7), and the author of 1&2 Kings demonstrates an innate knowledge of Babylon.[10] We can rightly assert that the author of Kings was familiar with the themes of Deuteronomy. He was undoubtedly a Judahite from the Southern Kingdom, but it is debated whether or not the text was composed immediately before or during the exile to Babylon.

1&2 Kings is a text that was compiled from various distinct sources.[11] These include “the book of the acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:41), “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” (1 Kings 14:19), “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” (1 Kings 14:29). These would have all been court annals from the royal archives of the Southern Kingdom, possibly mentioned by the author of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 20:34; 24:27; 26:22; 32:32). These are all sources that have been lost to history, but whose archival traditions are present in 1&2 Kings.

Most conservative scholars place the composition of 1&2 Kings sometime in the Sixth Century B.C.E., prior to the end of the Babylonian exile of the Southern Kingdom, during the reign of Evil-Merodach (2 Kings 25:27-30). The author of 1&2 Kings may be rightly assumed to be an unidentified prophet,[12] given the character of his writing, but who ultimately is anonymous.[13] A pre-exilic composition of most of Kings is supported by various references “to this day,” including the polls used to carry the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 8:8), conscripted labor (1 Kings 9:20-21), Israel in rebellion against the House of David (1 Kings 12:19), and Edom in rebellion against Judah (2 Kings 8:22). These factors may point to some kind of authorship prior to King Josiah, and many conclude that much of 1&2 Kings had already been compiled prior to the exile, later to be redacted with additional information.

Liberal scholars place 1&2 Kings among the last of the so-called “Deuteronomistic histories” of Joshua, Judges, and 1&2 Samuel, indicating that its author places a significant importance of the themes of Deuteronomy 28.[14] This follows the propositions of German higher critic Martin Noth,[15] who suggested that Joshua-Kings (and possibly even Deuteronomy-Kings) were originally a single work written to chastise the Southern Kingdom in Babylonian exile.

Conservatives, in response, do recognize the importance of Deuteronomy on 1&2 Kings, and specifically parts of it on the Josianic reforms,[16] but do not consider it a work of a so-called Deuteronomist in the late periods of the Southern Kingdom.[17] Instead, conservatives largely advocate that the themes of Deuteronomy were quite common in ancient Hebrew theology. “The term ‘Deuteronomic’ can only be applied unexceptionably to Kings in the sense that the author recognized, with Moses (Deut. 28:1ff), that obedience to God brought blessing, while disobedience resulted in calamity” (Harrison).[18]

It was quite common for earlier liberals to import themes of the JEDP documentary hypothesis (see Genesis entry for a summarization of the JEDP documentary hypothesis) of the Torah into 1&2 Kings.[19] Some used the descriptions seen of the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom to apply theological values to the so-called E and J sources, with E representing the view of Israel’s God from the Northern Kingdom and J representing the view of the Southern Kingdom.[20] This, as should be expected, radically affected their views of the Pentateuch. Most liberals today, however, have abandoned this method and have adopted some variation on Noth’s view of Kings’ relative unity.

Surprisingly, liberal scholars will affix some kind of valid historicity to the claims of 1&2 Kings, even though there are many who believe that some of its claims are overstated.[21] Liberals and conservatives are closer on the dating of 1&2 Kings than any other Tanach texts up to this point in the Hebrew canon.[22] It is interesting, though, that there are some conservatives who advocate that Joshua-Kings should be thought of “as a single literary work” (Dillard and Longman).[23] At the very least, this can help the lay reader to see a much larger picture of the rise and fall of Israel’s kingdom.

The text of 1&2 Kings has been subject to some editing and alteration over the centuries. The Greek Septuagint text of 1&2 Kings is shorter compared to the Hebrew Masoretic Text, with the Dead Sea Scrolls indicating that the LXX is probably closer to the original Hebrew.[24] Each textual variance must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

When reading Kings, it should be self-apparent that its author writes with a definite geopolitical bias in regard to the monarchs he describes,[25] largely reflecting the views of the Southern Kingdom. This is largely motivated by a covenantal view of God’s favor toward those who obey Him, with the Southern Kingdom being favored by God much more than the Northern Kingdom. However, the author of 1&2 Kings does demonstrate how both Israel and Judah are judged by God for their sin. He details the major problem of asceticism, where practices to honor the Lord are mixed with foreign religious customs from the Canaanites. The author of 1&2 Kings also recognizes that the monarchs of Israel and Judah play an important role in God blessing or judging the people.

1&2 Kings teach us much about what can happen to a nation or group of people when sin is allowed to enter in and flourish. A continual theme of the text is that obedience to God is necessary in order to not be punished by Him. Some theologians, particularly Noth, saw a largely pessimistic message in 1&2 Kings of its author chastising his fellow Israelites for the exile. Others, particularly Noth’s colleague Gerhard Von Rad, saw distinct rays of hope in 1&2 Kings with God’s promises to Ancient Israel and King David as a message of future restoration.[26] The debate that continues today in Kings’ scholarship is whether 1&2 Kings is a message about what Israel did wrong, or a declaration of Israel’s guilt toward God.[27] “[T]he author writes to demonstrate conclusively to his readers both the necessity of the believer’s keeping his covenantal obligations before God and the history of those most responsible for leading God’s people in their stewardship of the divine economy” (EXP).[28]

1&2 Kings asks many questions regarding Ancient Israel as a regional power, particularly among the various other powers of the Ancient Near East.[29] Its characters and stories play well into the teachings of Yeshua and the Apostles, and as such cannot be ignored.[30]

There is probably more discussion of 1&2 Kings in a few distinct sectors of today’s (very) broad Messianic community than 1&2 Samuel, largely due to its amount of historical passages recording the division of Israel into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. (How truly historical and fact-conscioussome of these discussions are is a matter to dispute.) Questions of the influence of Deuteronomy on the text, however, are often not considered, although they should be a natural extension of one’s “Torah observance.” It is necessary for any interpreter of 1&2 Kings to understand it in light of 1&2 Chronicles, which was composed after the exile, and is written asking somewhat different questions than 1&2 Kings.

Anyone examining 1&2 Kings needs to pay close attention to the humanity of each of Israel’s leaders, notably the gross sin and idolatry of King Solomon. There are many lessons to be learned from 1&2 Kings that speak profoundly to our modern world.

Ackroyd, P.R. “Kings, I and II,” in IDBSup, pp 516-519.
Ball, E. “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:30-38.
Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman III. “Kings,” in An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 149-167.
Harrison, R.K. “The Books of Kings,” in Old Testament Introduction, pp 719-737.
Holloway, Steven W. “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:69-83.
LaSor, William Sanford. “1&2 Kings,” in NBCR, pp 320-368.
Mariottini, Claude F. “1 Kings,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, pp 479-523.
_________________. “2 Kings,” in Ibid., pp 525-569.
Patterson, Richard D., and Hermann J. Austel. “1, 2 Kings,” in EXP, 4:3-300.
Payne, J. Barton. “Kings, 1 and 2, Books of,” in NIDB, pp 569-571.
Szikszai, S. “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:26-35.
Zevit, Ziony. “1 Kings,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 668-725.
__________. “2 Kings,” in Ibid., pp 726-779.


[1] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 719.

[2] E. Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:30; Ziony Zevit, “1 Kings,” in Jewish Study Bible, 668.

[3] Dillard and Longman, 149.

[4] J. Barton Payne, “Kings, 1 and 2, Books of,” in NIDB, 570.

[5] S. Szikszai, “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:30; P.R. Ackroyd, “Kings, I and II,” in IDBSup, 518; Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 733-735; Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:36; Richard D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in EXP, 4:10-12.

[6] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 735-737; William Sanford LaSor, “1&2 Kings,” in NBCR, pp 321-323; Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:13-17; Steven W. Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:75-76; Dillard and Longman, pp 156-157.

[7] “Jeremiah wrote the book that is called by his name, the book of Kings, and Lamentations” (b.Bava Batra 15a; The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary).

[8] LaSor, in NBCR, 320.

[9] Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:5-6.

[10] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 720; Payne, “Kings, 1 and 2, Books of,” in NIDB, 570; Dillard and Longman, pp 149-150.

[11] Szikszai, “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:31-34; Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 725-729; LaSor, in NBCR, 320; Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:30-31; Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:71; Zevit, in Jewish Study Bible, 670.

[12] LaSor, in NBCR, 320.

[13] Payne, “Kings, 1 and 2, Books of,” in NIDB, 570.

[14] Szikszai, “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:30-31; Zevit, in Jewish Study Bible, 669.

[15] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 731-732; Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:71-72; Dillard and Longman, pp 154-155.

[16] Payne, “Kings, 1 and 2, Books of,” in NIDB, 570; Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:33-34.

[17] LaSor, in NCBR, 320.

[18] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 732; cf. Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:4-5.

[19] Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:30-31; Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:71; Dillard and Longman, pp 152-153.

[20] Szikszai, “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:34; Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 730-731.

[21] Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 729.

[22] Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:3.

[23] Dillard and Longman, 152.

[24] Szikszai, “Kings, I and II,” in IDB, 3:35; Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 737; LaSor, in NBCR, 322; Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:35; Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:10; Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:73-74; Dillard and Longman, 156.

[25] LaSor, in NBCR, 321; Holloway, “Kings, Book of 1-2,” in ABD, 4:79.

[26] Ball, “Kings, Books of,” in ISBE, 3:37.

[27] Dillard and Longman, 161.

[28] Patterson and Austel, in EXP, 4:7.

[29] Ibid., 4:3.

[30] Dillard and Longman, pp 165-167.